Normativity and pragmatism: Beyond the public-private dichotomy in private investigations and private justice within businesses

CA Meerts

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference contributionAcademic


At the core of this presentation are the private methods of investigation as used by corporate security providers in the Netherlands, and the (private) settlement options which follow those investigations. Corporate security providers are, in the context of this presentation, those actors who are involved in providing (mostly) investigative services to businesses and other organisations, catering to their specific security needs.The presentation takes a novel approach to the (generally assumed) dichotomy between public and private interests in reactions to crime within businesses and other organisations. It is argued that it is not only public and private interests that form a driving force behind decisions (e.g. whether or not to report an incident to the authorities) but that concepts such as normativity and pragmatism also have an important role to play. Fieldwork suggests that private interests of a client are indeed leading for corporate security and its clients but that these are not necessarily put above all else. It is more often than not against the private interest of an organisation to report a crime to the authorities (as this could cause reputational and thus financial damage) and many studies have found that reporting incidents to authorities is not very common amongst organisations. However, reports are still made to the public authorities, even in cases when such reporting brings no private benefit. Organisations and investigators seem to use a report to the police sometimes strategically (and pragmatically), for example a criminal case may be used to strengthen a civil case. At other times, however, a report is made as an expression of moral indignation (normatively), for example because the decision makers feel cheated. They might not expect any positive effect to their private interest but still feel the need to report the incident as it is ‘the right thing to do’. Conversely, pragmatic considerations may induce a company to handle an incident privately, for example for the sake of a speedy resolution, in cases when the public authorities might not prioritise the case (but public interests may be involved). The presentation explores the above matters by using data from 48 semi-structured interviews with private investigators, law enforcement and clients (ongoing); 21 case studies of private investigations; and two six week observations (one with a corporate security firm and one with a security department of a large company). All data were gathered in the Netherlands from October 2012 till the present (ongoing).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sept 2015
EventAnnual conference of the European Society of Criminology - Porto
Duration: 2 Sept 20155 Sept 2015


ConferenceAnnual conference of the European Society of Criminology

Research programs

  • SAI 2005-04 MSS


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